1964 President Lyndon Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by Congress in August inaugurates an expanded war.
January 14 Lt. General William Westmoreland is appointed Deputy Commander of MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam).
January 24 MACV Studies & Observations Group (SOG) is formed to carry out Oplan 34A, a program of covert actions against the DRV (North Vietnam).
The program was actually initiated by the CIA in 1961. Oplan34A consisted of agent team insertions, aerial reconnaissance missions and naval sabotage operations. After a series of operations, in which Republic of Vietnam (RVN or South Vietnam) commandos were captured after insertion into the Democratic Republic of Vietnam(DRV or North Vietnam), SOG shifted the emphasis of its activities to maritime operations. A small fleet of fast patrol boats was acquired for use in the landing of small action teams and the offshore bombardment of small DRV military facilities (such as radar installations), with the pace of these operations doubling between June and July 1964.
January 30 General Nguyễn Khánh, commander of II Corps, seizes power from the Minh government in a bloodless coup.
February 12 SNIE (Special National Intelligence Estimate) 50-64 concludes that “South Vietnam has, at best, an even chance of withstanding the insurgency menace during the next few weeks or months.”
March 8 Robert McNamara (Defense Secretary) and Maxwell Taylor (JCS Chairman) begin a 5-day trip to appraise the situation in Vietnam.
March 16 McNamara reports to the President that the situation in Vietnam is far worse than was recognized in NSAM 273 (26 Nov 1963).
Approximately 40% of South Vietnamese territory is now under de facto Viet Cong control. ARVN and paramilitary desertion rates are increasing while the Viet Cong are recruiting energetically and effectively.
In National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 288 President Johnson stresses the importance of Vietnam to the security of the whole of South East Asia (Domino Theory). Johnson also adopts all of McNamara’s recommendations to improve the situation, which include:
Full support for Khanh’s government and opposition to further coup
Support for Khanh’s National Service policy
An increase in RVNAF by 50,000 men
A raise in both the military and paramilitary pay scales
The provision of new aircraft, vehicles and river craft.
To begin contingency planning for both “Retaliatory Actions” and a program of “Graduated Overt Military Pressure” against North Vietnam.
April 4 General Khan announces mobilization- all able bodied males aged 20-45 to be subject to national service.
SIGMA I-64 War Game reveals that the DRV (North Vietnam) would respond to US bombing by pouring more troops in to the South.
May 30 The Honolulu conference begins. With the situation in the Vietnam countryside still deteriorating, policymakers decide to expand the US advisory effort to district level within eight critical provinces.
June The U.S. began raining down bombs on Laos in what would become the largest bombing campaign in history. From June 1964 to March 1973, the U.S dropped at least 2,000,000 tons of bombs on the small, landlocked nation; the equivalent of one planeload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years—more than were dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II. Laos is littered with as many as 80 million “bombies,” or bomblets—baseball-sized bombs found inside cluster bombs. Since the bombing stopped, tens of thousands of people have been injured or killed as a result.
June 9 The CIA’s Board of National Estimates challenges the Domino Thesis of NSAM 288.
In its memorandum to the President the CIA state “With the possible exception of Cambodia, it is likely that that no nation in the area would quickly succumb to Communism as a result of the fall of Laos and Vietnam.”
June 20 Following the departure of General Paul Harkins, William Westmoreland is appointed acting MACV Commander.
July 6 The NLF launches an attack on the U.S. Special Forces camp at Nam Đông.
Special Forces Captain Roger H. C. Donlon will be awarded the first Medal of Honor of the Vietnam war for his actions during the battle. Among the 55 defenders killed were two Americans and AATTV advisor WO2 Kevin Conway, Australia’s first combat death of the Vietnam War.
New Zealand troops arrive to work with the Australians in Phước Tuy province.
July 31 SOG / SES Vietnamese gunboats carry out a covert OPLAN 34A attack on two North Vietnamese coastal bases.
August 1 General William Westmoreland officially becomes Commander of MACV
August 2 The first Gulf of Tonkin incident.
On the morning of 2 August 1964, the morning after an attack by U.S. special forces on a North Vietnamese radio transmitter located on an offshore island – one of these destroyers, the USS Maddox, was reported to have come under attack by DRV naval patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. This attack, and the ensuing naval actions, known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, were seized upon by President Lyndon Johnson to legitimize escalation of US military involvement and eventual full-scale, if ‘undeclared’, war.
The destroyer USS Maddox is attacked by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats whilst on a De Soto (electronic intelligence gathering) patrol in the Tonkin Gulf. The Maddox returns fire and requests air support from the carrier Ticonderoga. The carrier jets strafe the PT boats, damaging two and crippling the other.
August 4 In a repetition of the August 2nd incident, both the Maddox and her companion ship C. Turner Joy are reportedly attacked by North Vietnamese PT boats. Neither ship suffers any damage and there is uncertainty about the actuality of this second attack.
CIA Director John McCone tells the National Security Council that the North Vietnamese were reacting defensively to the OPLAN 34A attacks. He says “They are responding out of pride and on the basis of defense considerations. The attack is a signal to us that the North Vietnamese have the will and determination to continue the war. They are raising the ante.”
See http://www.pbs.org/pov/mostdangerousman/secrets2.php for Daniel Ellsberg who was on the Washington end (working for the Pentagon) of dispatches on the Gulf of Tonkin. See also http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB132/relea00012.pdf for convincing evidence that there was no August 4 attack.
August 5 The U.S. launches retaliatory air strikes (Operation Pierce Arrow) against four North Vietnamese PT boat bases and the Vinh oil depot
August 6 Defense Secretary Robert McNamara appears before a joint session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees to testify on the August 2nd and 4th attacks in the Tonkin Gulf. He states that the Maddox was on a routine patrol and that the North Vietnamese attacks were unprovoked and deliberate.
August 7 U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passes the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, enabling the President to take “all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”
It authorizes, without a formal declaration of war by Congress, the use of “conventional” military force in Southeast Asia. Specifically, the resolution authorized the President to do whatever necessary in order to assist “any member or protocol state of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty”. This included involving armed forces. The resolution (H.J. RES 1445) passes the Senate with only two dissenting votes (Senators Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska). The resolution is later cited as the necessary authority for military action in Southeast Asia.
Arkansas senator J. William Fullbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, who was a sponsor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, later expressed his regrets:
“Many Senators who accepted the Gulf of Tonkin resolution without question might well not have done so had they foreseen that it would subsequently be interpreted as a sweeping Congressional endorsement for the conduct of a large-scale war in Asia.’
September 18 After a temporary halt to the OPLAN 34A raids, the destroyers
Morton and the Edwards enter the Gulf of Tonkin, another phantom attack (similar to August 4) shows up on US radar, but this time official Washington dismissed the reports.
September 19 A Montagnard uprising flares up at five CIDG camps around Ban Me Thout in the Central Highlands (II Corps) .
Angered at mistreatment by the Vietnamese, the rebels kill a number of LLDB (Vietnamese Special Forces) soldiers and imprison several US advisors. The rebellion ends after five days of negotiations, with the GVN agreeing to organize a conference of highland leaders in Pleiku from October 15-17.
October 1 5th Special Forces (Green Berets) Group deploys to Vietnam to oversee
Special Forces operations
November 1 An NLF attack on the U.S. air base at Biên Hòa (a city in Đồng Nai
Province, Vietnam, about 20 miles east of Saigon (Sài Gòn)) kills four
Americans and destroys several B-57 bombers
November 3 President Lyndon Johnson enjoys a landslide election victory over
Republican ‘hawk’ Barry Goldwater.
Johnson campaigns as a ‘dove’ asserting: “We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10 thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
December 24 The NLF explodes a bomb at the Brinks Hotel, a billet for U.S. military personnel in Saigon (Sài Gòn). 2 Americans are killed in the blast and 107 Americans, Vietnamese and Australians are injured.
December 31 There are 16-23,300 U.S. military personnel in the Republic of Vietnam. Additional personnel are on naval vessels and U.S. Air Force bases in Guam and Thailand.